I recently read the excellent book “Getting your kids through church without them ending up hating God”, by Rob Parsons. If you haven’t yet read it yourself, I recommend it. In his book Rob mentions parents’ top five fears as identified by Jack and Jerry Scheur:
• The fear that our children will make a life-dominating mistake
• The fear that our children will not turn out ‘right’
• The fear that we are failing as a family
• The fear that we will lose our children through illness or serious accident
• The fear that our children will not live according to our values or beliefs
I can identify with having had all of these fears at one time or another during my own journey of being a parent.
When a child is born a parent is full of hopes and dreams for that child. But the problem is that they are an independent person with a will of their own, and as they grow we realise that we cannot always control the choices they make. I find it reassuring to remember that even God sometimes has trouble with his children’s choices.
It was the final one of these fears, the fear that our children will not live according to our values or beliefs, that formed the basis of a workshop we led with some Ethiopian parents on our visit to Addis Ababa in February. What follows is a brief snapshot of what we shared.
There is no special formula, no pre-determined mould and no guarantees when it comes to passing on our faith to our children, and we cannot bear the whole responsibility for raising Godly children. The best we can do is try to influence them by living a Godly life and sharing our faith with them. Even then we will fail to do this perfectly, our children will ultimately make their own choice. Four suggestions that we shared with the parents in Addis were:
Pray fervently. Remember 1 Peter 2 v5. The devil is prowling around looking for the young, weak and vulnerable, ready to steal them away and destroy their lives. We need to pray fervently and intentionally for our children as often as we can. Pray for God to protect them, convict them of their sin and call them into his family. Pray for the development of a Godly character and for wisdom in their future life choices. Don’t leave anything to chance. It is our privilege to be involved in what God wants to do in their lives, and our responsibility to speak on their behalf while they are too young to do it for themselves.
Model a faith worth following. Actions really do speak louder than words. It is no good expecting them to develop a faith that we are not living out daily for ourselves. Children are not fools; they will know if you are one person in public and a different person at home. We need to keep our own walk with the Lord strong and active. Spend time with Him every day. Reflect the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Foster an atmosphere of repentance and forgiveness in the home. Share stories of how we came to faith and talk to them of how God has answered our prayers. Read the Bible with them and teach them to pray about their worries.
Connect with others. Making it a habit to attend church regularly and spend time with others will help children to feel at home in the church, to find a place where they are loved and accepted for who they are, and where they can find the support of an extended family though children’s and youth leaders and a multitude of honorary “aunties”, “uncles” and “grandparents”. When life gets tough for them, as it inevitably will at some point, they will have someone else to talk to other than us.
Prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead. Being a Christian is not easy and we do our children a disservice if we teach them that it is. Thy will face temptations, times of silence from God, disappointment, being let down by people they trusted, and their own failure. Any of these can feel devastating at the time. Our children need to know they are not alone as they experience confusion, doubt and frustration in their walk of faith. Being honest with them about the challenges we face will help them to understand and accept it when they experience them for themselves.
Finally, remember there are no guarantees with any of this, but God loves your children even more than you do and willingly gave his life for them. It is never too late for your child to turn to God. He is longing to have a relationship with them and will never stop pursuing them.